Large-scale or decentralised energy solutions?

Martin Wright, in Green Futures’ Innovation Nation (India) report, refers to some large-scale projects undertaken by India’s central and state governments in a ‘National Solar Mission’, which aims to harvest the country’s 300 annual average days of sunshine. solar park patan india

Gujarat has Asia’s largest solar park, at Patan (above), with 214MW installed capacity, and expects to have solar power purchase agreements covering a total of 1.3GW by 2013. Other innovative approaches to solar, include ‘roofing’ some of its major irrigation canals with PV panels, generating power from ‘spare’ space and cutting water loss through evaporation.

However Sachin Joshi, Director of the Confederation of Indian Industry, believes that decentralised energy is the way forward. “I don’t think the overall energy problem, both in terms of the demand gap and carbon emissions, can be solved if we are still obsessed with huge centralised energy production systems.” Naren Karunakaran of Business Outlook reports:

“There is no rationale whatsoever for adopting the centralised route,” says N Venkataraman, Managing Director, Solartherm, a Delhi based technology development start-up. The variation in the intensity of solar radiation between the best solar zones in the country—in Rajasthan and Gujarat—and other regions in India is around 10%. “This means that the increase in cost of a project, between one located in Rajasthan and elsewhere will be a mere 6%,” he says, and therefore the potential is for seeding hundreds of solar power plants. The power of the sun does away with the need to be location specific, as in conventional thermal power plants, which need to be close to coal blocks. The argument to crowd solar power plants in the north-west region of the country and then transmit and distribute the electricity doesn’t really hold much water.”

Wright reports the development of decentralised solutions based on solar, biogas, biomass, small-scale hydro and wind being developed by an array of entrepreneurs.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has an entire programme, ‘Light a Billion Lives’, which develops high-quality lanterns for rental at affordable prices, together with a network of thousands of solar charging stations.

The Karnataka-based NGO, SKDRDP, works with local self-help groups to provide them with a range of clean energy solutions, from solar to biogas, via a carefully constructed micro credit loan system.

Wright describes a typical Bihari village, where, until last year, there was no electricity for most villagers until Husk’s biomass-fed grid was installed, enabling youngsters to cope with evening homework without strain, to charge their mobiles and keep in touch with distant family members.

CHS founder Winin Pereira (informal overview) would have explained, at this point, that in the traditional rural economy there was no waste and these husks would have been used for a number of  agricultural purposes . . . see the next article.

Husk solar microgrids operate on commercial terms, powering groups of around 40 households from a 300-350W solar supply: “That should give each home enough power for LED lighting, a mobile charge point and even a low-wattage TV, in return for a monthly fee of around INR75-100, which is the same or even less than the average household pays out for kerosene”.

husk generated energy bihar

Down to Earth has a detailed article on the subject. The caption to the picture above records that people in Sahebganj used to spend Rs 250 on kerosene-generated electricity in a month. Now they pay Rs 50 a month for a 15 Watt connection for six hours a day (Photo: Ankur Paliwal).

Micro-scale power has many benefits. With a radius of just a few hundred metres, transmission losses are virtually non-existent and with a community power supply the practice of theft from the mains is reduced.

The idea of integrating minigrids into the national grid is not favoured by Ashden Award-winner Gyanesh Pandey wisely reflects: “In India, the more sophisticated the approach, the harder it is to manage…” He is particularly excited about the longer term prospect of using ‘solar spray cans’ in the market for a few hundred rupees and coating their roof space with low-efficiency photovoltaic ‘paint’, which would be enough to give them basic power. He continues:

“The Government says there are 120,000 villages which don’t have good power (it’s probably much more, but let’s take its word for it for now). It would need $5 billion to electrify these 120,000 villages (using a mini-grid model). That’s less than the subsidy to kerosene every year. It’s less than the $6 billion in foreign remittances each year. It’s less than the $6 billion charitable contributions made by Indians in India each year. Access to energy for all is not something which we can’t afford.”



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